(John and Hunter are graduates of ICAN's 2017 June Graduation Class.)
"Hunter is always there with me, I hope I'm not holding him up," John said with a laugh walking side by side with his life changing companion. Hunter is John's mobility assistance dog. Fifty-nine-year-old John suffered a stroke that left him with the loss of most of his right side, vision impairment, and delayed speech.
Hunter is opening up John's world. Nancy, John's wife, says she hasn't seen John smile or heard as much talking from him since his stroke in 2012, but Hunter is changing that. "We can't get that smile off his face," Nancy said.
Due his stroke, John has some speech impairment; at times he will use cue cards for Hunter to provide him assistance.
Stephanie, who's been an ICAN trainer for two and half years, said she knew John and Hunter's connection was instant. "It's like when you have that ah-ha moment, this is my fit. Like finding that best pair of jeans fit!" John is feeling that too, "he's a friend I can rely on and love. He will help me do so much by being my buddy. Instantly we are bonded, I was happy when I felt he knew what I wanted."
Part of that incredible bond comes from the work Stephanie and Hunter did together to get ready for John. With the loss of the ability of John's right side, Stephanie had to figure out how Hunter needed to respond to John's limited mobility. To do that, she spent 2 months walking with John's gate and mimicking his actions when learning certain commands like brace. Brace generally requires two hands used on the dog, Stephanie had to find the best way for Hunter to work with just one.
John will not need to use his cane as much because he will be able to use Hunter for balance when walking.
Hunter will provide John assistance in balance, retrieving items, getting his cane, opening doors and cabinets, tugging off his clothing, and picking up dropped items. He'll also give John a chance to speak more. "I felt strange not talking to anyone at home, (just myself when Nancy was gone), Hunter will help me communicate better because I'll be talking to him," John said. Nancy works during the day, and says she will be more comfortable with John at home when she's not there, all because of Hunter. "I don't worry as much, I won't worry as much," Nancy said.
Hunter will provide John assistance on getting up and down from the sofa or bed.